Five things to know about the rise in vaping illnesses
A surge of vaping-related illnesses has sent hundreds of people to hospitals across the country and resulted in eight deaths. Connecticut public health officials have asked residents to halt their use of e-cigarette products until local and federal investigations into the mysterious lung disease are complete. Some states are moving to ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes and President Trump has endorsed that idea on the federal level. Others are warning against buying vaping products off the street.
So what’s going on, and what’s being done about it?
How many people are affected?
Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have logged 530 cases of vaping-related illness in 38 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
In Connecticut, 13 cases have been reported. One of the patients lives in New London County, one is from Tolland County, one resides in Windham County, three are from New Haven County, and seven are from Fairfield County.
The public health department was notified of the first case on Aug. 14. Patients range in age from 15 to 50.
How many people have died?
Eight deaths have been reported nationally. The disease has killed two people in California and one person each in Oregon, Minnesota, Illinois, Missouri, Indiana and Kansas.
No one in Connecticut has died.
What are the symptoms?
In all of the cases, patients reported a history of vaping. Many said they used products containing tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, a psychoactive compound in marijuana that can also be found in oils, gels, gummies, and supplements. Some of the cases involved only the use of nicotine-based vaping products.
Symptoms include coughing, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, fatigue, fever and abdominal pain. For some, the condition developed over the course of a few days, while for others it took weeks. CDC officials said a lung infection did not appear to be the cause.
What is the cause?
The CDC and state health agencies do not yet know the cause of the vaping disease. So far, no single product – devices, liquids, refill pods, cartridges – has been linked to all of the cases.
What’s being done?
In Connecticut, Health Commissioner Renee Coleman-Mitchell has asked residents to refrain from vaping while the state and federal investigations are underway. She called the disease “a serious public health concern.”
The CDC issued similar recommendations and warned people against purchasing e-cigarette products off the streets. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration opened a criminal probe into the illnesses.
Local health departments across the country are investigating in collaboration with federal agencies.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration has moved to ban the sale of most flavored vaping products. Alex Azar, the health and human services secretary, said the FDA would outline a plan in the coming weeks for removing flavored e-cigarettes and nicotine pods from the market, excluding tobacco flavors.
States are also taking action.
New York last week became the first to greenlight a ban. The state’s Public Health and Health Planning Council voted to outlaw all flavored cigarettes and other vaping products except for menthol and tobacco flavors. Retailers there have two weeks to remove merchandise from store shelves.
Michigan’s ban on flavored vaping products took effect a day after New York. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer used her executive authority to impose the six-month prohibition, which can be extended. Whitmer said she hopes legislators will write it into law.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom asked health officials in his state to come up with recommendations for curbing the sale of counterfeit vaping materials.
In Connecticut, lawmakers have pledged to introduce a bill banning flavored e-cigarettes this winter if the federal effort stalls. A statewide prohibition could include a range of e-liquid flavors, from cotton candy to crème brûlée. The legislative session begins in February.
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